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Game 149

September 20, 2000 (Game 2) – Omar Vizquel Catches Cormier Sleeping, Straight Steals Home

The Indians were fighting for the Wild Card spot and Boston was trying to keep their fading playoff hopes alive as the Indians visited Fenway to play back-to-back doubleheaders in the middle of the week. In Game 1 on Wednesday, the Indians defeated Pedro Martinez for the first time in 10 games. In Game 2 Dave Burba was matched up with Paxton Crawford. 

Troy O’Leary doubled to left field to lead off the bottom of the second. After a Trot Nixon strikeout, Lou Merloni drove in O’Leary with a line drive to deep left field. 

In the bottom of the fourth, the Red Sox extended the lead to 3-0 when Scott Hatteburg doubled with two outs. Lou Merloni followed with an RBI double, and then Brian Daubach drove in Merloni with a liner into center field. 

The Indians came up with their own two-out rally in the top of the fifth. Bill Selby was hit by Crawford’s pitch to get on base. Kenny Lofton moved him over to second with a single into center field. Omar Vizquel drew a five-pitch walk. Robbie Alomar poked a single into left-center that scored Selby and Lofton. Robbie and Omar executed a double-steal with Manny Ramirez at the plate. 

Manny drew a walk to load the bases, and Rheal Cormier came in to relieve Crawford. Cormier entered the game facing Jim Thome with the bases loaded. Cormier was focused on his pitches to Thome and took his time moving into the stretch for every pitch. He neglected 33-year old Vizquel on third. Jim Riggelman took two steps out of the third base coaches box and appeared to just say “Go.” Vizquel broke for home, and barely had to slide as he came in to score the tying run.

Cormier never even attempted a throw to the plate. 

Trot Nixon smashed a home run over the wall in left-center to lead off the bottom of the fifth and put the Sox up 4-3. 

In the bottom of the sixth, Steve Karsay came on to pitch against Lou Merloni who already had two doubles in the game. Scott Hatteberg was on first. Karsay got Merloni to ground out into a 4-6-3 double play. 

Chan Perry grounded out to begin the Indians’ half of the seventh. Kenny Lofton singled to right and then Omar walked. With runners on first and second, Rich Garces came on in relief for the Sox. Robbie Alomar flied out to center, but Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome plated two runs with back-to-back singles. 

Steve Karsay and Paul Shuey held things down through the late innings, before closer Bob Wickman came in to face Merloni with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth. Wickman got Merloni to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the eighth. He was able to close the door in bottom of the ninth to seal the 5-4 victory. 

Omar would repeat this feat several times throughout his career. Although he had moved on from the Indians by then, his straight-steal of home in 2008 at age 41 bears quite a resemblance to the play above.

No Indian completed a straight steal of home again until Grady Sizemore in Game 129 of 2005.

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Game 146

September 18, 2000 – Bartolo Colon has a Career Night, One-Hits the Yankees

The Yankees were leading the chase for the American League pennant, while the Indians were scrapping to stay in the wildcard race during this late-season visit to the Bronx. In a prime-time pitching matchup, Bartolo Colon was to face off with Roger Clemens. Clemens had not suffered a loss in his last 15 starts. 

Kenny Lofton drew a 10-pitch walk to lead off the game. Then Omar Vizquel bounced a single off the second base bag. After a Robbie Alomar strikeout, Manny Ramirez poked a ground ball single into short right field that scored Lofton from second. Jim Thome grounded into a double play, but not before the Indians were up 1-0. 

Derek Jeter lined one back to the mound and hit Colon in the side. Bartolo was able to recover and flip the ball to first. After a lengthy visit from the training staff, Colon stayed in the game. With two outs, David Justice reached on an error by Tribe left fielder Russel Branyan. However, Justice was quickly left on base as Bartolo struck out Tito Martinez on three pitches. 

In the bottom of the second, Kenny Lofton made a play reminiscent of the one featured in Game 111. Jorge Posada lofted a fly ball to center that looked like it would surely be a home run. Lofton once again showed off the vertical leap from his past life as a D1 basketball star. A perfectly timed leap allowed him to bring Posada’s home back over the wall. Back on the warning track, Lofton gingerly flipped the ball from his glove as Posada rounded second and headed back to the dugout. 

In the top of the third, Clemens struck out Omar and then retired Robbie Alomar on a groundout. Clemens then lost his command and composure for a bit. Manny Ramierez started the two-out rally by drawing a walk. Jim Thome’s double to right put Manny on third base. Manny was able to scamper home on a passed ball with David Segui at the plate. Segui eventually walked, as did Travis Fryman. However, Branyan left the bases loaded when he struck out. 

Colon blew through the Yankees lineup in the middle innings with great force. In the bottom of the sixth he struck out the pinstripe side. All three Yankees went down looking. In a post-game interview, Derek Jeter admitted “He’s one of the few pitchers who can overpower you. He basically dominated the game.”

The Yankees got their second baserunner of the night in the bottom of the seventh when David Justice drew a seven-pitch walk. Colon quickly retired Tito Martinez and Jorge Posada to strand Justice at second. 

Bartolo struck out Glenallen Hill to lead off the top of the eighth. His Dominican countryman and long-time friend Luis Polonia stepped to the plate. Polonia knocked Colon’s first pitch cleanly into center field. Polonia said, “He’d been throwing me fastballs all night and I was looking for one.”

Colon returned to pitch the bottom of the ninth and again struck out the Yankees side. The final out was Derek Jeter. When Jeter struck out looking, it ended his streak of getting on base in 41 straight games. However, he could not end another streak. The Yankees had not been no hit for 6,637 games–since Hoyt Wilhelm did it for the Orioles on September 20th, 1958. In 2003, the Astros threw a combined no-hitter in Yankee stadium using six different pitchers. 

Bartolo’s line of 1 hit, 1 walk, and 13 strikeouts was the best of his career so far. Of course, he would go on to become “Big Sexy”, the winningest Latin-American pitcher with 247 wins and the oldest player to hit his first career home run. 

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Game 141

September 28, 1995 – Dennis Martinez Breaks Kirby Puckett’s Jaw with Curveball

Dennis Martinez signed with the Indians prior to the 1994 season with 18 years of major league experience under his belt. He was the first Nicaraguan native in the MLB, had found lasting success with both the Orioles and Expos, pitched a perfect game, and overcome alcoholism.

El Presidente was already only the seventh pitcher to record 100 wins in both the American and National Leagues.He had taken the mound for the Tribe on Opening Day both in 1994 against Randy Johnson in Game 1 at Jacobs Field  and in 1995. 

The Indians had clinched their first playoff berth in a generation in Game 123 of 1995 and were tuning for the ALDS as the strike-shortened season was coming to a close. 

Martinez took the mound for a getaway Thursday game in Minneapolis against Frankie Rodriguez. The start of the game was rocky for El Presidente. He hit Chuck Knoblauch with the game’s second pitch. 

Two batters later, a second wild pitch broke future Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett’s jaw. Puckett had played 12 seasons for the Twins without ever spending time on the DL. In the offseason he was diagnosed with glaucoma. The rapid degradation of his eyesight ended his major league career. Although the hit-by-pitch injury was unrelated, this episode was a somewhat unfitting end for one of the beloved figures of 90s baseball. 

Knoblauch later said, “He did his leg kick and then he just froze. It’s almost like he didn’t see it or something. He didn’t really turn his head.”

After Puckett was taken off the field, Marty Cordova drove in Knoblauch to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. 

Rodriguez plunked Albert Belle with the first pitch of the second inning. Eddie Murray then singled to left to put runners at the corners for Jim Thome. Thome doubled in Belle and Murray advanced to third. Manny Ramirez followed with a line drive single up the gap that scored two. 

A two-run home run by Matt Lawton tied things up at 3-3 for a time, but the Indians would pull ahead in the top of the fifth and not look back. They rode homers by Alvaro Espinoza and Eddie Murray to a 12-4 win. 

After the game, Martinez remarked that he had considered asking Manager Mike Hargrove to take him out of the game.  “It’s the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. Because when I knocked him down, it did not hit him in the helmet, it hit him right in the face. I felt like the lowest man in baseball when I was on the mound.”

Despite the unfortunate outcome in the first inning, Martinez had pitched quite a year. In his age 40 season, he recorded a 3.08 ERA. That figure has not been matched by an Indians starting pitcher save for Cliff Lee’s Cy Young season in 2008. His 245 career wins held the mark for most by a Latin-born pitcher until he was surpassed by Bartolo Colon in 2018. 

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Game 123

September 8, 1995 – Indians Clinch a Playoff Berth for First Time in a Generation

The Indians came into this Friday night contest with a hair shy of a .700 winning percentage. They were a whopping 23 ½ games ahead in the Central Division. The Orioles threw Kevin Brown against veteran Orel Hershiser .  

In the bottom of the third, Sandy Alomar took first base on a hit-by-pitch. A Kenny Lofton single into right field advanced him over to third. Alomar scored on a sacrifice fly by Omar Vizquel for the first run of the game. Later in the inning, Eddie Murray drove in Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle with a two-out single over second base that put the Tribe up 3-0. 

Hershiser gave up his first hits of the night in the top of the fourth–consecutive singles by Curtis Goodwin and Rafael Palmero. With runners at the corners, Bobby Bonilla hit a grounder to first which Sorrento scooped up, fired to Vizquel for the force at second and back to Sorrento for the double-play while Goodwin scampered home to cut the lead to 3-1. 

Brown and Hershiser battled through the middle innings, until Harold Baines dropped a double into left field for the Orioles in the top of the seventh. Jeff Huson drove him in with another double and Mike Hargrove made the call to the Bullpen for Paul Assenmacher. 

Assenmacher got the last out of the seventh and the first two of the eighth. Julian Tavarez came in to match up with Bobby Bonilla and recorded the final out of the eighth. 

Jose Mesa came to the mound for the top of the ninth with the one-run lead intact. He retired Cal Ripken on a groundout to short and Harold Baines on a fly ball to right. He put the tying run aboard by issuing a walk to Chris Hoiles. Jeff Huson popped his 0-1 pitch into foul territory beyond third base. Jim Thome caught the fly, and the Indians were headed to the post-season for the first time since 1954. 

Prior to the game, knowing that the clinch was possible, Manager Mike Hargrove made a request of the scoreboard crew. He asked that Garth Brooks “The Dance” be played during the post-game celebration. The Dance was a favorite of former Indians closer Steve Olin who died in a boating accident during Spring Training of 1993. 

Hargrove later said, “I thought it would mean a lot to anyone who was there (at the time of the accident) For those who weren’t there it had no significance, but it was still a good song. It was a tribute to those guys, to their families. It was part of our promise to never forget them. We didn’t tell anyone that we were going to do it. For those who knew, there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen. I saw Charlie Nagy; tears were rolling down his face.”

Of course, the 1995 Indians would later run into the woodchipper that was John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. Jose Mesa would go from second in the Cy Young voting to an all-time Cleveland villain, and the window of contention would eventually close without a World Series Ring. But for this day, Cleveland was on top of the baseball world. 

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Game 111

August 4th, 1996 – Lofton Vaults Outfield Wall to Rob BJ Surhoff Homer

The 1990s Indians were primarily known for their offense. However, of all the great Indians moments of the late 1990s, only one clip is so iconic and instantly recognizable that it was included in the SportsCentury montage that ESPN ran in the final moments of New Year’s Eve 1999. 

On a Sunday afternoon in August, the Indians entered this game against the Orioles with the best record in the American League. The Orioles threw Rocky Coppinger against Brian Anderson. 

In the bottom of the third, Kenny Lofton led of the inning by drawing a six-pitch walk. With Omar Vizquel at the plate, Lofton stole second and then third. After Vizquel drew his own walk, Jim Thome plated Lofton with a sacrifice fly. 

Baltimore tied it up in the top of the fourth with a solo home run by Bobby Bonilla. 

The Tribe broke the 1-1 tie in the bottom of the fifth when Lofton homered to right field. Jim Thome gave the Indians an insurance run when he poked a single through the right side of the infield which scored Vizquel from second base. 

After replacing Anderson, Paul Shuey gave up a solo home run to Jeffery Hammonds to make it a 3-2 ballgame. 

In the top of the eighth, with Raphael Palmero on first, BJ Surhoff came to bat. Shuey fell behind and into a 3-0 count. Surhoff took the 3-0 pitch to deep right-center. Omar Vizquel later shared, “I thought that ball was going to be a homer. Period. I dropped my head and I said, ‘Damn, man.’”

Kenny Lofton had not given up on the play. He raced toward the path of the ball. Lofton originally recruited to the University of Arizona on a basketball scholarship. He is the only person to have played in both an NCAA Final Four and a World Series. Arizona Wildcats head coach Lute Olson once said of Lofton, “He’s quick and a great leaper.”

This was never more evident as this moment when Loften barreled toward the bullpen wall, leapt off the warning track, found a foothold on some padding that protected the bullpen door and vaulted three feet above the right field wall to bring back what would have been a go-ahead homer for Surhoff. 

Jim Thome remarked, “Literally, I thought he was going to jump over the wall.”

After Eric Plunk struck out Eddie Murray for the final out of the inning, the energized Indians came to bat. They sent fifteen men to the plate and scored eleven runs on eight hits, including a three-run double by Jose Vizcaino, and three-run home run by Jim Thome, and another three-run homer by Brian Giles. 

Jose Mesa pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, but was clearly not eligible for a save in the 14-2 victory. 

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Honorable Mention: August 16th, 1920 – Ray Chapman is Killed by a Pitch

While not a positive story, Chapman’s is a unique one. He was struck in the temple by a pitch that he likely never saw. The Yankee’s Carl Mays was a submarine-style pitcher known to skuff and soil the ball (as was legal at the time). The game was nearing twilight when Chapman–a talented hitter who is still sixth on the all time list of sacrifice hits–failed to track the pitch and was struck squarely in the head. He collapsed to his knees and was helped off the field. He died hours later in a New York hospital. Chapman remains the only MLBer ever to pass away as a result of an on-field injury. 

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Game 110

August 5, 2001 – The Impossible Comeback

The 2001 Seattle Mariners were one of the best ballclubs ever assembled. They had a .360 On Base Percentage for the season, and ended up with an MLB record 116 wins. Dave Burba was matched up with Aaron Sele in a late-summer contest that saw a good Indians team facing the juggernaut from the west. Seattle came into the game with a record of 80-30. 

That summer, my high-school girlfriend was hosting an exchange student from Talinn, Estonia. The game was nationally televised, and the wraparound weekend series had been hyped all week. We decided that on Sunday night, we would try to teach the exchange student about baseball. 

Burba pitched a 1-2-3 inning to start the game, but quickly began to unravel in the second. Al Martin and Mike Cameron hit consecutive doubles to score Seattle’s first run of the night. After a fly out by Carlos Guillien, Burba issued a walk to David Bell. With runners on first and second, Tom Lampkin doubled down the right field line to score Cameron. Ichiro drove in Bell and Lampkin with a line drive single to left. The Mariners were up 4-0 very quickly. 

Burba gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases in the top of the third, and manager Charlie Manuel had seen enough. Reliever Mike Bacsik was called from the bullpen to make his first major league appearance. Bacsik would later become a historical footnote for giving up Barry Bond’s 756th home run while pitching for the Nationals. The M’s sent ten batters to the plate against Bacsik and scored eight runs in the frame. The Indians found themselves in a 12-0 hole against the best pitching staff in baseball. 

Down 12 runs, Manuel decided to give some starters a rest–Juan Gonzalez, Robbie Alomar, Ellis Burks, and Travis Fryman all came out of the game after their second at bat. Kenny Lofton later remarked that he, “wanted to stay in the game for some reason. [Maybe] I had a girlfriend there.”

Jim Thome hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth to end the shutout, but Seattle quickly regained their 12-run margin scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth. 

In the bottom of the seventh, Russel Branyan cranked a home run to left center off Aaron Sele to lead off the inning. After retiring Marty Cordova and Will Cordero, Sele began to fade. Backup catcher Einar Diaz singled to center, and then Sele walked both Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel. 

After John Halama was brought in from the Seattle Bullpen, Jolbert Cabrera followed with a two-RBI single that cut the lead to 14-5. 

In the bottom of the eighth, Jim Thome led off with a home run off Halama. Russel Branyan took first when Halama hit him with his first pitch. Marty Cordova followed with a homer that made the deficit 14-8. Omar drove in one additional run in the 8th with a double to right field. 

Rich Rodriguez pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth for the Tribe. He used only seven pitches and got the offense–which was now beginning to feel a little spark–back to the plate. 

With two outs and the bases loaded, Einar Diaz singled to left, pushing Eddie Taubensee and Marty Cordova across the plate. The Mariners were forced to bring in their star reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki to attempt to quell the threat. Kenny Lofton took Sasaki’s second pitch through the left side of the infield to re-load the bases.

Vizquel worked Sasaki into a full count. On the eighth pitch of the at bat, Omar hit one sharply over the first base bag. It skipped under backup first baseman Ed Sprague’s glove and out toward the foul pole. Kenny Lofton–showing his characteristic speed, but on aging legs at this point in his career–dug hard to score from first. The bases-clearing triple tied the game at 14. The Tribe had closed the 12 run deficit over the course of just three innings. 

I turned to the exchange student. For about the fifth time in the last hour and said, “That is not usually how this works.” 

Both teams would fail to score in the 10th. The Indians’ controversial recent acquisition, John Rocker, came on to pitch the top of the 11th. Rocker struck out the side against the bottom third of the M’s order. 

Eddie Taubensee Celebrates with Kenny Lofton

After a fly out by Einar Diaz to lead off the bottom half of the frame, Kenny Lofton got aboard with a line drive single to center. Omar singled again to move Lofton into scoring position. This brought Jolbert Cabrera to the plate. Cabrera swung at Jose Paniagua’s first pitch and shattered his bat, sending fragments out to third base and the ball into short left. Lofton raced from second and rounded third. Mark McLemore threw a strike from left field to the plate, but Lofton slid in under the tag to deliver the walkoff victory. 

After the game, Lofton was beyond enthusiastic, “I can’t explain it. It was unbelievable. I’ve never been in a game like that in my life. My voice is gone from hollering so much. It was fun. Wow.”

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Honorable Mention: August 26, 1995 – Eddie Murray Steals Home

At age 39, Eddie Murray was one of the grizzled veterans on the 1995 squad. I was with my father fishing for perch. We were bobbing at anchor next to the 5-mile crib with the Saturday day game on the radio. When Eddie Murray broke from third and stole home off of Tiger’s pitcher Mike Moore I asked my dad if it was a joke. It seemed unlikely, but was the real outcome of a wild fifth inning. 

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Game 70

June 20, 1996 – Indians Defeat Roger Clemens in Walkoff Win

It was always a joy to watch the juggernaut offense of the mid-90s go up against the era’s best pitchers. Matching up with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, David Cone, Kenny Rodgers, or David Wells was usually a memorable battle, and often a playoff preview. You would be hard pressed to find a pitcher that typified the 1990s (steroids and all) like Roger Clemens.

You had this shirt in 1996

The Rocket was matched up against Chad Ogea this Thursday night at the Jake. Ogea started off a bit rocky, issuing a leadoff walk to Jeff Frye and a single to John Valentin. However, he then got Mo Vaughn to ground into a double play and Jose Canseco to pop out to end the inning.

Jim Thome drew first blood, cracking an RBI double to deep left field that scored Julio Franco from first base.

The Sox took a 4-1 lead in the top of the third. A flurry of offense topped off by a two-run single by Reggie Jefferson put the Tribe in a bit of a hole.

The Indians began to climb back into things with a solo home run by Manny Ramirez to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

With runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Jim Thome grounded to second. He was forced out at first, but Omar Vizquel scored, cutting the Sox’ lead to 1 run.

In the bottom of the eighth, Jim Thome tied the game with a lead off home run to deep right field. Clemens struck out Albert Belle, and then walked Manny Ramirez on five pitches. Eddie Murray drove the ball into short left field for a single, advancing Manny to second. Carlos Baerga had the opportunity to do some damage, but grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Indians reliever Paul Shuey faced four Red Sox in the top of the ninth and held them scoreless. Mike Stanton replaced Roger Clemens on the mound for the Sox in the bottom of the ninth. Tony Pena led off the inning with a double. Jeromy Burnitz replaced Pena on the basepaths as a pinch runner. Omar Vizquel executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Burnitz over to third.

In his fifth plate appearance of the day, Kenny Lofton drove the game-winning single into center field, easily scoring Burnitz from third and giving the Tribe their third (of an eventual nine) walkoff win of the 1996 campaign.

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